The Time I Cried on a Glacier

We were about 45 minutes into our glacier hike on the Falljökull glacier tongue in Iceland’s Skaftafell National Park, when I felt the panic rise up in my throat & my eyes filled with tears. I’m not really sure what happened, all I know is that after we stopped to put on our crampons, I looked back as we started to make our way up the steepest part of the glacier & freaked out. I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling, & for some reason it didn’t occur to me that we’d be going up the glacier. ‘Well, duh!,’ is what you’re all thinking, but remember: I am a beach girl whose only experience with a glacier was being driven out onto one in Canada. Luckily, my Glacier Guide was instantly at my side, asking what he could do & if offering to have someone come hike down with me. I just needed to collect myself & was determined to solider on. I’m so glad I did.

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just after the freak out
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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‘Maybe if I pretend to smile & pose for a photo they won’t know I’m terrified’
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

The Glacier Wonders “easy” glacier tour was one of only two tours we booked for our entire time in Iceland. They were well organized at check-in (which takes place in their hut in the parking lot of Skaftafell Park) & after being briefly fitted with crampons & ice picks, we were soon bouncing along in an old school bus on our way. Our group of eight was a mini-United Nations, with our guide from Slovenia, another couple from Toronto & a group of buddies from Israel. Because the glacier is constantly moving & receding, we had a bit of a hike from where the bus dropped us off to the base of the ice. The route to the glacier is constantly changing, but our guide, who is getting a masters degree in earth sciences, seemed to know about every rock we passed on our 30 minute walk.

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kind of like being on another planet
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

This is one massive glacier: Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest in Europe by volume & covers almost eight-percent of Iceland (it’s also the same glacier that we kayaked at the base of & took a boat ride through its ice lagoon). The Falljökull glacier tongue is just one small part of this massive hunk of really old ice. So it’s no wonder that it’s a bit of a hike to get there. Once we made it to the glacier, we strapped on our crampons &, following a brief pause for my tears, we were soon heading up the ice. We stopped to look at interesting formations in the ice, including a giant crevasse that B was able to climb into. Up we went, to about 200 meters (thank goodness that, when I asked, my naivety of the metric system came into play – it’s over 600 feet).

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(l) inside the crevasse; (r) as the glacier recedes, it leaves behind volcanic ash from centuries ago
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Iceland

crack in the ice
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Iceland

heading on up
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

A highlight of the tour was stopping to drink water from a fresh glacial stream, including the men in the group taking turns drinking the water “Viking style”:

Our hike was a fun, challenging way to get to know the glacier & Iceland’s varied landscape. Do one thing every day that scares you. Okay, Eleanor, got it!

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I did it!
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Know if you go… 

– there are two companies that run glacier tours out of the parking lot at Skaftafell National Park – make sure you know which one you’ve booked with (thanks to the people at the other company who were very nice when I tried to convince them they were who I booked out tour with)

– reservations are a must, especially during the busy season

– if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, Glacier Guides’ Half Day Glacier Hike looks awesome

– the Visitor Center at Skaftafell National Park has a nice cafe, a cute little gift shop & clean bathrooms.

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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

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